My heart aches at the sight of her, and I know I should turn away and act like she doesn’t exist, but I can’t help but stare. She has that effect on people.

Besides my grandmother, a local legend in her own right, Taryn is the most successful person in our family. She goes out of her way to make sure that we all know it, too.

It’s never enough for her to send a simple “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Holidays” card. She has to send a new Cartier watch with custom diamonds to match. She can’t resist saying little things like, “Four hundred dollars? Oh, I spend that on my lunch,” and, “You like this bag? Well, it’s not too bad for the ten-thousand-dollar price tag.”

She’s also a master manipulator.

When I didn’t get into Alpha Kappa Alpha, she made it her mission to get in and throw it in my face whenever she could. She invited me to parties that exclusively required sorority membership, and when I asked her to stop, she said, “Why? Doesn’t this inspire you to be better?”

Ever since becoming one of the first YouTubers to make it big by earning six figures from her media channel, she’s become ten times more egotistical and unbearable.

Especially for me.

Tapping her red-bottomed Christian Louboutin heels against the pavement, she motions for valet once more.

Her eyes suddenly meet mine, and she smiles. “Well, hello there, little cousin! You’re growing up so fast!”

“You’re two days older than me.”

“I didn’t know you were coming home!” She pulls me into a hard hug that I don’t want, squeezing me a little too tight. “What made you come home this year?”

“My company rented out grandma’s resort for an entire week,” I say. “I’m still at West Media.”

“Well, that’s nice,” she says. “I heard you were a top advisor, but that’s… still working for someone else, and in this day and age, it’s not good enough at all.”

Please, Universe. Bring on the sinkhole so that I can drag her down with me.

“You know, I remember when I was still working a regular job,” she continues, “when I had no idea how much further I could go if I worked for myself. I do hope that one day you’ll get to my level, Savannah. And maybe perhaps, you can join a graduate chapter of Delta Sigma Theta instead of Alpha Kappa Alpha. I’ve heard the former takes pity on people like you.”

I roll my eyes. “I have an Uber to get,” I say, stepping back. “I’ll see you around later, I’m sure.”

“You don’t want to ride in my new Benz?” She smiles as the silver car pulls up next to her. “I mean, the ride is nothing like my Lamborghini, but I let one of my old classmates borrow it for the weekend. It’s Monica, the girl I roomed with at Spelman Grad…I still can’t believe I got in there on a full academic scholarship and they didn’t even accept you for undergrad! But somehow you got into Harvard undergrad?”

“Oh, wait.” She taps her bottom lip. “I can believe it, because that’s exactly what happened.”

I silently debate whether I can afford to lose my job because I’m tempted to commit an assault right now.

“I don’t need a ride,” I say, forcing a smile. “I’ll see you at the resort.” I walk away before she can object, muttering, “Strike one,” and hoping she gets struck by lightning while we’re here.

The Uber driver makes two wrong turns on his way to The Grace Estate, and I pretend like I don’t know that the right lane is three miles down. I shut my eyes and let him figure it out, bracing myself for my grandmother’s reaction to my first homecoming in eight years.

I know better than to go through the regular entrance like all my coworkers did; that’ll only delay the inevitable heckling and stares, and I want to get this over with once and for all.

I brace myself for all of my aunts and cousins to regard me as some type of lost stranger who’s better off finding love from another family for the holidays. Them treating me like the broken ornament that no one wants to touch.

You can do this, Savannah. You can do this.

“I finally figured it out, Miss.” The driver’s voice makes me open my eyes. He gets out and opens the backdoor for me, launching me into a newly expanded wonderland.

According to the sign that the giant nutcracker is holding, the newest additions to the resort are an expanded ski lodge, a Michelin-awarded restaurant, and a state-of-the-art golf course.

Taking a deep breath, I knock on the front door five times.

No answer, but I hear laughing and music inside.

I take another deep breath and knock even harder.

Within seconds, Grandma Hattie opens the door, her recipe book in hand.

“Now, here I was thinking that not even your job could bring you home!” She smiles and pulls me into a hug that I’ve missed far too much, a hug that immediately brings tears to my eyes.

“Please don’t go another eight years, you hear?” she whispers. “Your mother was my daughter, and still need to see you. I can only look after you so much from here…”

“Yes, ma’am.” Fresh tears sting my eyes as she slowly pulls away from me.

Before I can say another word, my aunts and cousins surround me, giving me hug after hug.

“Heard you’re doing so well in New York.” “Welcome back home, Savvy.” “We’ve missed you!”

They pull out their phones and take pictures as they kiss me. They challenge me to the annual family game of Spades that I’ll definitely lose, and they act as if my absence of eight years was something as short as eight seconds.

Georgia winks at me from the far side of the room.

“Told you so.” She mouths. “Everyone still loves you.”

“Cousin Savvy, pick me to give you the tour!” My cousin, Phoenix, walks up to me.

“No, me!” My other cousin, Austin, blocks him.

“Everyone, hold on!” My grandmother clears her throat. “Savannah is home, but remember she also has job-obligations while she’s here. Let her get settled into her suite first, get some work done, and then you can worry the hell out of her, right?” She looks at me.


They cheer about that last fact, and then she walks over to me with a keycard packet.

“Good news, you have the best suite here in Building G.” She pats my back. “But bad news, you’re the granddaughter of the owner, and you have to promise me that you’ll take a break from your conference and join me and the rest of the family for the taste-testing dinner at nine on Friday night.”

“I promise.” I give her one more hug before walking away.

I roll my luggage to the elevator and take it to the top floor. When I make it to my room, I smile at the bright green “Welcome Home, Savannah” ribbon that’s draped above the door.

Pulling my suitcase inside, I hit the lights and let out a breath. Before I can move to the bathroom, I hear the door locking behind me.

“Let’s talk.” Garrett is suddenly standing behind me, his mouth close to my ear. “Now.”

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up as I slowly turn around to face him. I open my mouth to speak, but no words come out.